We recently had need to go to Edinburgh to attend a sad event, a family funeral. I’ll say no more about that as it was a private affair. However we did spend three days on the return journey visiting some sites in southern Scotland, northern England and the Midlands which will be the subject of this post.
The day of the funeral was marred by high winds and torrential rain. However it was still and dry at dawn so I took the opportunity to visit the shore at Musselburgh which was quite close to where we were staying.
This area is famous as a wintering area for seaduck such as these Common Eider.
There were a large number Velvet Scoters in the area, spread out over several miles of coast
Velvet Scoter can be told from (in most places) the eponymous Common Scoter by the yellow in the bill, white mark under the eye and in particular by the obvious white stripe in the open wing which is caused by white secondaries and greater coverts.
The female, seen behind this male, is identified by the two pale patches on the head, quite a different pattern than on Common Scoter. I usually see one or two of this species each year, the odd one winters in Dorset although they are nowhere near as regular as Common Scoter either in winter or on migration. Here I saw no Common Scoters at all, just about 300 Velvets.
However the reason I made several visits to Musselburgh was to see Velvet Scoter’s American cousin, White-winged Scoter (third from the left). Recently split from Velvet Scoter, this was only the 3rd or 4th record of the species in the UK (depending on whether this bird is considered the same one as was seen in Scotland in 2017). White-winged Scoter is very similar to Velvet Scoter, differing only (in the male) in it’s larger and upturned white mark below the eye, swollen ridge of the upper mandible and pinkish rather than yellow tip of the bill. The white wing bar is not a diagnostic field mark as is shared with Velvet Scoter, just that in this photo the White-winged is holding it’s wing slightly open revealing the white secondaries. It certainly wasn’t easy to find with so many Velvet’s to check but with perseverance I eventually located it. There is a further type of scoter with white wings, Stejneger’s Scoter from Asia, which I saw well in Mongolia earlier this year. Currently this form is considered a race of White-winged Scoter but many think it deserves species status in its own right. As far s I know there have been no records in the UK but it has occurred in Eire.
We left Musselburgh and continued along the coast towards North Berwick. Much of the Firth of Forth is dominated by views of the Bass Rock. The closest approach is just east of North Berwick where this photo was taken. The marbled surface of the rock is actually perched Gannets. 150,000 Gannets breed on the rock, making it the largest Northern Gannet colony in the world. I was surprised that there were still thousands of them about in mid September.
We continued eastwards and visited this cove next to the headland of Barns Ness. Good for scenery but not many birds. It was a bit of a shock that evening when I found out there was a Woodchat Shrike there all the time. In the distance you can just make out the southern shore of Fife where we visited last November (see this blog for photos and an account of that trip).
We called in to picturesque harbour at Dunbar …
… and St Abbs but by mid-afternoon the weather was on the turn and we headed south, back into England and on to the city of Durham. This was my 19th trip to Scotland. So many people I speak to in the south of England have never been at all, well all I can say is they are missing out big time.
We spent the morning in the city of Durham with Dave, my friend from University days.
We had met Dave, who lives near Consett in County Durham, a few minutes earlier in the quaint Market Place.
The Market Place is dominated by the statue of Lord Londonderry which is known locally as ‘the man on the horse’. As the photo of Margaret and Dave above shows we were wrapped up well against the cold but the chilly conditions that morning had no effect on this man. In fact people from the north-east have a well-known resistance to the cold and it said that the Met Office won’t issue a severe weather warning until a Geordie lass is found wearing an overcoat!
Durham city centre is encompassed within a loop of the River Wear and comprises a small number of quaint ancient streets.
From Wikipedia: Local legend states that the city was founded in A.D. 995 by divine intervention. The 12th century chronicler Symeon of Durham recounts that after wandering in the north, Saint Cuthbert’s bier miraculously came to a halt at the hill of Warden Law and, despite the effort of the congregation, would not move. Aldhun, Bishop of Chester-le-Street and leader of the order, decreed a holy fast of three days, accompanied by prayers to the saint. During the fast, Saint Cuthbert appeared to a certain monk named Eadmer, with instructions that the coffin should be taken to Dun Holm. After Eadmer’s revelation, Aldhun found that he was able to move the bier, but did not know where Dun Holm was. The legend of the Dun Cow, which is first documented in The Rites of Durham, an anonymous account about the Durham Cathedral, published in 1593, builds on Symeon’s account. According to this legend, by chance later that day, the monks came across a milkmaid at Mount Joy (southeast of present-day Durham). She stated that she was seeking her lost dun cow, which she had last seen at Dun Holm. The monks, realising that this was a sign from the saint, followed her. They settled at a wooded “hill-island” – a high wooded rock surrounded on three sides by the River Wear. There they erected a shelter for the relics, on the spot where the Durham Cathedral would later stand. Symeon states that a modest wooden building erected there shortly later was the first building in the city. Bishop Aldhun subsequently had a stone church built, which was dedicated in September 998. It no longer remains, having been supplanted by the Norman structure.
Also from Wikipedia: Owing to the divine providence evidenced in the city’s legendary founding, the Bishop of Durham has always enjoyed the title “Bishop by Divine Providence” as opposed to other bishops, who are “Bishop by Divine Permission”. However, as the north-east of England lay so far from Westminster, the bishops of Durham enjoyed extraordinary powers such as the ability to hold their own parliament, raise their own armies, appoint their own sheriffs and Justices, administer their own laws, levy taxes and customs duties, create fairs and markets, issue charters, salvage shipwrecks, collect revenue from mines, administer the forests and mint their own coins. So far-reaching were the bishop’s powers that the steward of Bishop Antony Bek commented in 1299 AD: “There are two kings in England, namely the Lord King of England, wearing a crown in sign of his regality and the Lord Bishop of Durham wearing a mitre in place of a crown, in sign of his regality in the diocese of Durham”. All this activity was administered from the castle and buildings surrounding the Palace Green. Many of the original buildings associated with these functions of the county palatine survive on the peninsula that constitutes the ancient city.
The 11th century castle and for many years was the residence of the Bishop Princes. It now has been renovated and acts as accommodation for student at University College. Considerably finer accommodation than the terraced slum I occupied for three years at Uni in Leeds (mind you it was the best of times and I wouldn’t have had it any other way).
As there were events on for freshers week we were not allowed into the college but the security man allowed me to walk close enough to get a shot of the courtyard through the arch.
We wandered through some ancient streets to the Cathedral …
Photography is not allowed inside the cathedral so I have taken this photo from https://www.dayoutwiththekids.co.uk/durham-cathedral
But I could take photos in the adjoining cloisters …
In spite of light rain we took a walk along the banks of the River Wear.
…seeing, ducks, swans and the odd canoeist.
By the weir on the Wear we had great views up at the Cathedral. Dating from 1093, both it and the Castle have been designated UNESCO Heritage Sites. There can be few cities that have such magnificent views just yards from the city centre.
We then headed down to Leeds, checked into our hotel which gave a good view over the east side of the city and then met up with our old friend Nigel.
I have known Nigel since school days and shared a place with him at University and beyond. He has developed a strong interest in art and often takes us to either the city art gallery of one of various commercial galleries in the city centre.
He is so well know to the staff that they offered him (and us) a drink and allowed us to sit and absorb the art on offer at our own pace. Our visit to Leeds was short and we just spent a few hours in the afternoon with Nigel in the city and then went for a meal, but it was great to meet up with someone who has been your friend for over 50 years.
As we drove south to Poole we detoured to visit the centre of Coventry. I was born near Coventry and spent my early years here. I still have some relatives in the city but seldom see them. The purpose of our visit was to show Margaret the amazing modern cathedral.
I’m sure on my last visit this used to be a roundabout with the statue of Lady Godiva in the middle. From Wikipedia: Godiva, Countess of Mercia died between 1066 and 1086), was an English noblewoman who, according to a legend dating at least to the 13th century, rode naked – covered only in her long hair – through the streets of Coventry to gain a remission of the oppressive taxation that her husband imposed on his tenants. The name “Peeping Tom” for a voyeur originates from later versions of this legend in which a man named Thomas watched her ride and was struck blind or dead. Wikipedia goes on to say that although Lady Godiva is a historical figure, the story of the naked ride is almost certainly apocryphal. On the hour a figure of Lady Godiva on horseback appears at the clock and moves from one yellow door to the other whilst the face of Peeping Tom emerges from the yellow triangular opening above. The statue was erected in 1949.
Coventry was devastated during the blitz in autumn 1940 (my mother lived through it all and continued to work at the Sainsburys store in the bombed out city centre). Perhaps the highest profile casualty was the destruction of the cathedral. The cross on the altar is formed from two burning timbers that fell on the altar during the blitz.
Winston Churchill visits Coventry Cathedral in 1941. Photo by Capt Horton- War Office official photographer – From the collections of the Imperial War Museums.
The cathedral was not rebuilt in its former locality but the ruin was left to stand as a powerful tribute to the events of WWII …
… and has become a powerful symbol of reconciliation between nations with powerful links being forged after the war between the cathedral and church organisations in Germany and elsewhere. Iron nails from the roof timbers have been fashioned into a series of ‘cross of nails’ which have been sent to reconciliation centres worldwide.
In 1963 a new cathedral was opened, designed by Sir Basil Spence and is designated a grade 1 listed building. It was built along side, rather than in place of, the old cathedral. It’s design departed markedly from traditional church architecture and like Concord, the Moon landings and the Beatles it symbolised the ‘brave new world’ of the 1960s. Having grandparents living in Coventry I visited it a number of times and was always in awe of its modern magnificence. So 50+ years on would I still feel the same? As you walk up the steps to the entrance you pass the magnificent statue of St Michael’s victory over the Devil …
This modern sculpture dominates the entrance. Marked on the marble floor is the ancient Christian Chi Rho symbol.
The baptistery window designed by Graham Sutherland
Looking down the aisle and past the quire you see the full magnificent of the cathedral.
Once thought to be the largest tapestry in the world, the huge tapestry of Christ in Glory was designed by Graham Sutherland. Three nails from the old cathedral (the first of the series mentioned above) sit at the centre of the altar cross.
There are a number of side chapels …
… in this one the angelic figure is framed by a representation of the ‘crown of thorns’.
Looking back towards the entrance you see this lovely etched glass window and the old cathedral beyond.
Leaving the cathedral we stopped for a bite to eat nearby and were intercepted by this young lady from a dance troupe called ‘The Dance We Made’. She asked us about our journey from Edinburgh to Coventry and then incorporated ‘aspects’ into the dance. You can see this at https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=jhJv1bFc1XA and we get a mention 3 minutes into the routine.
The students were returning to the University (as they had been at Durham and Edinburgh, explaining why accommodation was so hard to find as their parent were taking them to Uni and staying overnight in all the travel lodges). So there were other strange events going on as well as the dance troupe, such as these six students sharing a hexagonal bicycle.
From here it was just a matter of finding the M40 and heading home. It had been an interesting few days meeting up with old friends and sightseeing in various cities and doing some birding in Scotland although of course the actual reason for the trip was a very sad event indeed. I’ll conclude with another view of Coventry Cathedral looking away from the altar towards the lovely window by the entrance. And as to the question ‘would the building that I found so inspiring when first seen as a child still do the same today’, then the answer is an emphatic yes.